Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Everyday life in Ukraine

So here are my random thought and observations about life in Ukraine.

It is very immediate.  From my experience things seemed to be based on now and not too much on the past or the future.  In many ways this is a really good thing.  Why do I feel that things in Ukraine are mostly about the 'now?'  Well, first of all whenever I wanted to plan for the next day or later in the week, it was really difficult to do so.  If I wanted a taxi or bus now, it was simple. If I inquired about a bus or taxi for tomorrow or the day after, people were very confused.  When we arrived in Uzhorod on Monday evening we knew that we wanted to get Sarah a haircut on Tuesday.  So we went to the lobby and inquired about hair salons.  The front desk clerk assumed we wanted a haircut now - at 8:00pm on Monday night.  We assured him that we wanted it for the next day.  At the hair salon, it didn't seem like they had appointments.  People just walked in and were given a time (come back in 30 minutes) and they returned.  I kept asking Sarah on our Skype chats about what her boyfriend Ivan's plans were when his border patrol service would end in August.  She kept telling me in June and July - well, he doesn't know - he'll look for something when the time comes.  Originally I was fearful that the young man was not ambitious, but that really doesn't seem to be the case.  It seems that he is really best served to finish his service and then look for work.  I got the feeling that if an opportunity was available they'd want him to start that very same day.

It is very close to the earth. Ukrainians seem to really appreciate nature and the natural beauty of their country.  They were always focused on drinking the healthy mineral waters from the nearby springs.  All our conversations focused around the beauty of the mountains, flowers and meadows.

It is local.    The markets are local and people sell the mushrooms they pick in the forest and the vegetables and fruit in the local gardens.

 It  also seemed that families all lived near each other in the same villages.  It seemed that people didn't travel too much beyond the nearby areas and less so beyond the borders of the country.  This is probably for several reasons.  Not so much that people don't want to see other parts of the world, but a visa to leave the country is expensive and timely.  Also the area is not wealthy and transportation costs are high.  On Monday, the day before we visited Vishkovo, a young man (about 15 years old) drown in the river. We heard alcohol was involved. They had his wake on Tuesday and his funeral on Wednesday.  It seemed all the family and friends lived very close by and arrangements were made quickly.  The church bells rang to let people know when the service was and many women were seen around the village in all black and with veils.  It was a sad day.

It is a very relaxed pace of life.  People did not appear to be in a hurry and rushed.  Meals were relaxed and comfortable and the service was prompt but not rushed.  There is no 'to go' and people take time to talk to the store clerks and wait staff.
 It is talkative.  Maybe it's because I didn't understand the language but it seemed that every conversation - even something as simple as 'can you drive me to Vishkovo' seemed to require a lot of words and back and forth conversation.  It kind of reminded me of watching a movie translated from a foreign language and the people on the screen are talking for like 5 minutes and the subtitle says 'yes, I agree.'
It is highly social.  People drink coffee in Ukraine as a social activity - not to feed a caffeine addiction.  We found that very interesting.  You could not get a 'quick cup of coffee.'  It did not exist.  You could sit and enjoy a cappuccino or espresso, but no Venti to go here.  Fortunately for us we were on vacation so we could feed our coffee addiction and socialize, but I don't know how we'd survive if we were in a hurry to get to work.

It is artistic.  We met two men (both named Michael) who were artists.  The older man is teaching Sarah to draw.   Together they have established an art building that holds art work from the local people and there is a performance center that can seat probably 50 people for performances of all kinds. 

It is very hospitable.  The Ukrainians we met wanted to serve us food and drinks and welcome us into their home.  We visited Sarah's host home and Natalia welcomed us with coffee and snacks.  When we met the two Michael's they insisted we go to the elder Michael's studio gallery and enjoy ice cream.  Everyone was very happy to meet us and wanted to show hospitality in their homes.

It is beautiful and well maintained.  People seemed to really take pride in their homes.  Each home had fresh flowers - geraniums and the like all around their home.  They also had pretty fences and lawn decorations.

It is law - abiding, but barely.  Let me explain.  It seems that for 'simple laws' like a seatbelt law or similar, Ukrainians will go to tremendous effort to 'appear' to obey the law, but won't actually obey the law.  So why do I say this?  Well, when we got in the taxi's the person in the front would go to put the seatbelt on .  The taxi driver would indicate 'no need - don't bother.'  But then, a little ways down the road, someone would flash their lights at us.  It seemed the Ukrainians ALWAYS flashed their lights to each other on the road.  Then the cab driver would take the seatbelt, not fasten it, but hold it so it looked like it was fastened.  He would indicate for the 'shot gun' seat passenger to do the same.  Then when the cop passed, the seat belt would go back.  Wouldn't it have been easier to simply fasten the seatbelt and enjoy the protection it offers rather than just go to all that effort to appear to comply with the law???  It reminded me of people at my work who will spend 20 minutes and 17 e-mails explaining why they can't (and shouldn't) do the 5 minute transaction to fix your issue and how it is someone else's job.  A whole lot of time spent in-efficiently.   Now this is just my experienced based on several different taxi rides.  It may be that in other areas of Ukraine, they all obey the law diligently and put on their seatbelts every time.  For me..... I put on my seatbelt everytime.   The cab drivers were maniacs.....

It is industrious, hard working but not especially hopeful.  In America we are very used to an attitude of optimism and hope that exists in all aspects of our culture.  When you meet someone going through hard times, it is common for them to say ‘well, I’ve hit rock bottom, it HAS to get better.’    When you meet people that don’t have a very bright future, they are still generally quite optimistic that ‘something will come along’ – even people who are not actively doing anything to make that something happen.  In general, as Americans we have hope.  I didn’t get the impression that the attitude is the same in Ukraine.  You got the sense that people were pretty content and resigned to their state of life and didn’t really put a lot of stock in a ‘brighter future’ or a hope in things to come.  They seemed pretty much set in the thought that this is how life is and it probably won’t change.   They weren’t despondent or depressed, just kind of pragmatic about it. I think their countries political history has something to do with it.  The 20-30 years old in Ukraine today were young babes during soviet times but the initial years after the soviet block lifted were not easy.  The government in the early 90’s appeared to be ‘more of the same’ of what they had under Soviet Rule.  In the early 2000’s the government started to do ‘free elections’ but the corruption of the past remained and the elections were anything but ‘free.’ In 2007 there was a candidate for president who became quite popular and was promoting change from the historic, established regime.  The election that year was rigged and even though the newcomer won the popular vote, the old regime ensured the old timer ‘won’ the election.  The Ukrainian people were wild with anger and frustration and protested.  The orange revolution erupted and the common people flooded the capital city wearing orange in protest.  They prevailed and the government recalled the election and called a new one.  The rebel candidate was elected as president and the country filled with optimism and hope for the future.  The new president found corruption in every aspect of the parliament and in an effort to clean house, fired everyone.  Well, while that was a noble thing to do, it left the country in chaos.  After a short time as the new government was re-established, corruption still existed and now the country is still not really being run the way the population would like.  For instance, while we were visiting, a change was pushed through parliament to make Ukraine no longer the official language of the country.  They changed it so that Russian (or other languages) can be used in schools, public offices and other places.  This may not seem to be that big a deal but it is a huge step in the wrong direction.  These 20-30 olds were forced to learn Ukrainian in an effort to dissociate them from Russia and give Ukraine it’s own distinct language.  By allowing Russian as an official language it could render Ukrainian as obsolete.  It seems strange to me that after Ukraine went to all the expense and effort to successfully host the Euro 2012 games, they would immediately take an action that dissociates themselves further from EU and closer to Russia.  The media is saying it was a political move by the president to ingratiate himself with the Ukrainian voters who favor Russia, but it seems crazy to many.   The head of parliament was infuriated with  the way the change was implemented and resigned and here we are again with people protesting.  I hope they continue to protest but I fear they won’t have the passion or optimism to bother.  The orange revolution was only 7 years ago and many probably fear that it was a waste of effort.

Below are some links to some news releases about the language and the orange revolution:

Well that turned into a very long post.  I hope you enjoyed reading about my impressions of the rural Ukraine life.  Of course you realize that these are just my opinions and observations based on what is on Wikipedia and a few conversations with some locals.  I hope I got it 'close' to accurate but please don't use this a an accurate source for a history lesson - okay?

Thanks for visiting today.  Have a great day.


Karen said...

So interesting! I really enjoy seeing a foreign country through your eyes and senses. Ukraine looks much prettier than I imagined and it sounds like the people are nice, too.

I'm glad you and Bob enjoyed your time with Sarah! said...

When you go to Ukraine, it is better to have phone numbers of local taxi services in your pocket. You don’t know when you will need it, and it is not recommended to stop an accident car if you want to be safe in this country. Use licensed taxi services and be secured. This is my list of Ukraine taxi all of these services are appropriate and rates are not expensive. If you know more good taxi services in Ukraine, please add them to this Ukraine travel guide.